I have been a fan of the Dark Sun since it first came out over 15 years ago. I played the game and I read the books. I even re-read the first books soon before the setting was released for the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition and I was really excited when I learned about this novel.
The plot is fairly straight forward. Aric, a half-elf with a psionic talent that allows him to communicate with metals of all kinds, is sent on a mission to the desert by Nibenay, ruler of the city of the same name. An ancient city, buried under the sand for millennia, has been uncovered after a specially ferocious sandstorm. An enormous amount of metal, substance as rare and precious as water, has been found in the depths of the city and Nibenay wants to make sure his army is equipped with the weapons that can be forged with it.
Of course things are never simple in Athas and Aric is about to find more than the metal he bargained for.
Jeff Mariotte, the author, does something that Wizards of the Coast didn’t; reflect how deadly and dangerous Athas truly is, and he does it very well. With all due respect for Troy Denning, the author of the novels published so many years ago, this is a step up in the right direction. This novel is not just a reflection of the adventures that helped shape the previous setting, it is a reflection of what the role playing books intended to portray. Also, they don’t feel as naive as the previous ones. Lastly, Jeff Mariotte has a more mature style of writing that is most welcome in the genre.
The pace is good, it is very easy to read, the storyline is compelling and the characters, although a bit clichéd, are credible and charismatic enough to relate to them much before the end of the book.
You could do with being familiar with the game books. Mariotte doesn’t go into great lengths to describe the creatures the characters face, nor the weapons they use in the fights they get involved in. If you are unfamiliar with the Dark Sun setting, then you will be left wondering what many things mean.
If you play or run the game, you must read this book. It truly helps give you a wider perspective of the whole world, its politics, intrigues, and attitudes. Something it does extremely well is to reflect the chaotic, legal, good and evil alignment of the characters. Probably this book’s best achievement.
I really liked this book. Although it won’t make literature history, it was terrific fun to read. Although it could do with better descriptions of weapons and creatures, the story is very good and it has been very well written. It does reflect how the Dark Sun setting has evolved for a more mature and discerning readership and it is not afraid to tackle gore and blood when necessary.
A well deserved 4 stars out of 5.
The City Under the Sand is available from: